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Workers Lament a Plant's Falling Star

Assembler Oscar Johnson has worked at the Hazelwood plant for 12 years.
Assembler Oscar Johnson has worked at the Hazelwood plant for 12 years. (By Andrew Cutraro -- Associated Press)

Despite the grim news at Ford and the domino effect at local companies such as Lear Corp., which provides seats for the Hazelwood vehicles, St. Louis boasts brighter developments on the automotive front.

Nearby facilities controlled by the other two members of the Big Three U.S. automakers are prospering. DaimlerChrysler AG said last month that it would invest as much as $1 billion in its minivan and pickup truck factories in Fenton, Mo.

St. Louis continues to build more cars than any other city in the country besides Detroit, according to St. Louis University business professor Jerome Katz. Ford is expected to pay its hourly workers for roughly a year even if they do not work. Many have the skills to prosper in an industry that has not surrendered, Katz said.

"The reputation of the work quality at the Hazelwood plant is second to none. Some of those workers are going to be snapped up by DaimlerChrysler and maybe by GM," Katz said, adding, "The chance of them getting as great a deal as they had with Ford, that's probably not going to happen."

Over at Mattingly's, a bar down the road from the Hazelwood plant, workers who gathered for breakfast grieved.

"We had one of the ladies in here this morning crying and crying and crying because she lost her job," said waitress Cheryl Holland. "She's got kids. She's a single mother. What's she going to do?"

After winning the two Ford performance awards, employees joked darkly that the company forgot to send the third award, the one for best plant closing.

"You hated to hear it," Parker said of the announcement. "I was expecting to put in 12 more years and collect my retirement. It didn't quite work out."

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